Reading poetry with teenagers can be such a random encounter, sometimes there’s a blank stare and complaints that no one really talks like that, sometimes they vibrate with the shock that someone from a dusty old century ever wrote a sexy poem. This week, we read and discussed Nothing Gold Can Stay. With its themes of youth and opportunity, it’s a bit of a cliche with high-schoolers, but it’s become a cliche because it’s so appropriate.
After reading the poem, I asked for reactions. The kids began to agree and disagree with the poem, some said that Frost must be wrong, this isn’t the high point of their lives, that they’re spending their golden youth shuttling between chemistry tutors and violin lessons, and even their Saturday mornings in an SAT English class, in the hopes of getting into a good college and finding a good job. Today must be spent in preparation for tomorrow. Others responded that the future holds years in cubicles doing the same thing every day, and this is their one chance to be independent and unique. Responsibility versus enjoyment now.
I had seventeen teenagers actually raising their hands to talk about how the poem relates to their lives and our own mortality. It was the kind of moment you envision when you think about becoming an English teacher… not the hours of your life sucked into departmental meetings, sitting in a hard folding chair and looking at slides of new accountability procedures. (And when I used the second person there, I really meant the first.) It was amazing.
I was packing up to leave, just glowing over their reaction essays and the way they’d tied the poem to their lives, when a member of the program’s administration came in.
It was pointed out to me that one of my students had torn his reaction out of a spiral notebook, and there were a few tabs of notebook paper on the classroom carpet. I was not to leave my classroom in such a state again, and my lack of professionalism had been duly noted by the authorities.
So Eden sank.